The duplicitous diplomat: Seven deceptions Iranian FM Zarif told 'Face the Nation'
May 4, 2018
There’s a famous quote attributed to Henry Wotton that “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”
If one takes this aphorism to heart, it is not limited to ambassadors, but to anyone in a nation’s foreign policy establishment.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is not an honest gentleman, has taken the art of lying for his country to a new level. He brazenly lies about easily verifiable facts. He claims that his nation that is currently exporting its revolution across the Middle East is the unfair victim of the United States. And he claims that Iran has never sought a nuclear weapon.
Zarif’s serial dishonesty was on display this weekend when he appeared on the CBS news show, “Face the Nation,” and answered the questions asked by the show’s moderator, Margaret Brennan.
We do not mean that Zarif engaged in only seven deceptions, but these appeared to be the most egregious.
1. “Well, first of all it will lead to U.S. isolation in the international community.”
This was Zarif’s answer to what the “unpleasant” consequences would be to the United States for withdrawing from the nuclear deal. However, as sanctions expert Richard Goldberg explained in February, the nature of sanctions law would now mean that if the U.S. were to re-impose its toughest sanctions and secondary sanctions, “banks around the world would immediately be at risk of losing their correspondent accounts in the United States.”
So if sanctions of any kind—nuclear or ballistic missile-related—are imposed, the United States has the economic power to isolate Iran.
2. “What is important is for the Europeans to bring the United States into compliance because Iran has been in compliance with the deal.”
The fact is that Iran has not been in compliance with the deal. And it is by standards that Zarif himself set out in 2015, that Iran can be seen as violating the deal. Iran has refused to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to enter military sites, so we don’t really have a complete picture of Iranian compliance or non-compliance with the deal.
In Congressional testimony last year, former weapons inspector and head of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright, said that the IAEA had never judged Iran to be fully compliant with the deal. He criticized the agency for a lack of transparency in reporting on Iranian violations. Albright described the violations as “flirting with violations in several areas.” These areas include its development of advanced centrifuges, twice exceeding its limits on heavy water, suspicious nuclear procurement efforts, and seeking to exceed the allowable cap on low enriched uranium.
In addition, Iran has continued to develop ballistic missiles—United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which implemented the nuclear deal, explicitly called on Iran to stop it. The United States, as well as its European allies, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, all consider the launch of a satellite last year to be a violation of 2231.
As Albright noted, Iran has also violated the provisions of 2231 governing “conventional weapons sales and transfers and against making procurements for its military and missile programs without UN Security Council authorization.” In January of this year, a UN experts panel found that Iran had violated a UN arms embargo on the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Though the panel was focused on a different resolution governing the conflict in Yemen, the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 are quite clear.
Iran doesn’t consider its violations of UN Security Resolutions to be significant. In August 2015, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, one of Iran’s nuclear negotiators and currently a deputy foreign minister, said, “JCPOA is attached to the resolution; its violation breaches the resolution; while violation of the resolution is not a breach of JCPOA.” (Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made similar comments. It appears that Araghci’s comment isn’t the careless comment of a rogue bureaucrat, but actual government policy.)
Aside from the dubious logic, a party that intends to keep its side of an agreement would not make a statement like this. Essentially, Iran has declared that it will only observe the parts of the agreement that it agrees to.
In order to believe, as Zarif asserted, that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, requires a massive suspension of disbelief.
3. “Well, note President Trump has made it very clear that it is trying to dissuade our economic partners from engaging with Iran and that’s a clear violation of the deal.”
The United States was obligated to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran due to the deal, but is free to impose other sanctions targeting Iran’s support for terror, destabilizing actions, and human right abuses. President Donald Trump has, until now, renewed the waivers that allows the United States sanctions to remain lifted. Still, the Trump administration has targeted the Iranian regime “for its appalling mistreatment of its citizens, including those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of people assembly and for censoring its own people as they stand up in protest against their government.” In addition, the United States under Trump has targeted Iran with sanctions for its “ballistic missile program and destabilizing activities.”
In another egregious lie, Zarif, in a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday said that “since President Trump came to office, not a single license has been issued, not a single OFAC license, in 16 months.” In fact, the United State Treasury Department last month issued two OFAC licenses to enable regular Iranians to access the Internet.
4. “We never wanted to produce a bomb.”
Later on Zarif reiterated this, saying, “Iran commits itself never to develop a nuclear weapon.”
In fact, a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Iran had sought to develop a nuclear weapon until 2003. The IAEA, in 2015, prior to implementation of the nuclear deal in January 2016, determined that Iran was attempting to design a nuclear weapon at least until 2009. Iran also failed to answer all of the questions asked of it about its nuclear program by the IAEA prompting The New York Times to observe, “Iran’s refusal to cooperate on central points could set a dangerous precedent as the United Nations agency tries to convince other countries with nuclear technology that they must fully answer queries to determine if they have a secret weapons program.”
Iran has tried to develop nuclear weapons in the past and no matter what’s written on a piece of paper (that Iran never signed), Iran can be expected to do so in the future.
5. “Our judiciary is an independent organ.”
This answer was given with respect to the five Americans currently being held in Iranian prisons. Zarif’s claim is bogus. Three American hikers who had been arrested in 2009 were freed after the Oman paid $1.5 million in bail to Iran.
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was convicted of espionage in October 2015 but was released along with four other Americans in January 2016, after the United States released $1.7 billion in frozen Iranian assets as part of the nuclear deal.
This money did not go to the judiciary, it went to the regime. The judiciary targets the hostages and puts them through an opaque process, which leaves no room for appeal, only payment for one’s freedom. Or to put it in cruder terms: ransom.
6. “Who used the chemical weapons?”
Zarif got self-righteous when he was asked why Iran hadn’t asked Bashar al-Assad to stop using chemical weapons. He launched into a sermon about how Iran opposes all use of chemical weapons because it was the victim of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Iran not only has a chemical weapons program, but actually used the proscribed weapons in 1987 against Iraqi troops. German intelligence reported that Iran sought chemical weapon technology in 2015. A year ago, Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, reported that Iran had helped build Syria’s chemical weapons program. Earlier this year, he reported that German parts that had been sold to Iran were used in Syrian chemical weapons attacks.
In addition only Syria, which has a known stockpile of sarin, is likely to have used that toxic gas for attacks. Furthermore, only the Syrian regime, not the rebels, has the helicopters, which are capable of dropping barrel bombs filled with chlorine.
It’s clear who has been behind the chemical attacks and there are strong indications that, despite Zarif’s indignation, Iran helped Assad build his chemical weapons capacity.
7. “Israel has continued its violations with international law.”
This statement was made in response to a question about whether Iran’s establishment of bases in Syria was a provocation. Zarif deflected the question by speaking of Israeli incursions into Syria. In addition to preventing Iran, whose leaders threaten Israel’s existence, from establishing bases in neighboring Syria, Israel also has struck in Syria to prevent Iran from giving Hezbollah “game-changing” weapons. (It is thought that one of the strikes was to keep illicit chemical weapons from the Lebanese terror group.)
But Zarif’s self-righteousness here is misplaced. Iran is forbidden from sending arms to Hezbollah by UN Security Council Resolution 1701. In the absence of any enforcement mechanism, Israel is forced to defend itself from Iran’s serial violations of international law and, specifically, its support of Hezbollah.
Zarif is aware of the threat Hezbollah presents to Israel, as he assured Hezollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in August 2015 that the nuclear deal would present the terror group with “a historic opportunity” to threaten Israel. Iran’s financing of Hezbollah has allowed it to build a massive rocket arsenal with which to threaten Israel.
Zarif is quite adept at feigning indignation, but most of his responses in this interview were deflections of the questions about Iran’s record, not answers. He has no real answers for Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior. But Zarif does possess the quality identified by Wotton: the ability to lie.
David Gerstman is senior policy analyst at The Israel Project.